Nine years ago last night I was visiting my mother in Boston. I was 33 weeks pregnant and it was mid week. I had closed the Waiting room 6 weeks earlier, on Valentines day. An appropriate day for endings. So I left Steve behind and drove the three hours to my mother’s loft. We strolled through Cambridge, had dinner at a Mexican joint which I will never visit again, and hit the sack early.
Something woke me that night. It may have been a quick kick from Oliver, water rushing through my mother’s exposed pipes, or water rushing through my body. It was 3 am and I placed my Palm on the strange hump that had emerged at the bottom of my right ribs. Oliver had settled in the position for a few weeks and I often rested my hand there, as comfort for one or both of us.
Early this morning the hump was there and I patted it gently wondering if either of us would get back to sleep, and in a moment it was falling quickly down my body and the sheets were soaked.
I wan’t ready for labor, but I had read a bit and learned that the one conclusive sign of labor was having your water break. It may have been that. It was probably that.
I yelled for my own mother who came down the flights of stairs in half sleep half alarm. It didn’t take much for us to decide to head to the hospital.
The contractions started then, in the car and I went through a box of kleenex in silence. Punctuated only by the sound of my unanswered cell phone as I tried Steve. No answer.
We arrived at the local hospital, Mt Auburn. The maternity ward was empty. The friendly nurse tested the fluid and confirmed it was amniotic. It looks like we are having a baby, she chirped at me. I kept telling her I was 33 weeks along. My mother was in the hallway calling Steve.
The nurse told me I was in good hands, Mt Auburn was equipped to handle babies from 34 weeks on. I repeated that I was 33 weeks pregnant. She told me that if my son needed support they could easily ambulance transfer him to Brigham and Women’s hospital a mere 15 minutes away.
I was getting frantic. A week can mean a lot with early birds. Particularly boys who for some reason have slower lung development that girls. I asked to wake the attending.
He came into the room literally rubbing his eyes. His nurse was calm. I was not. I kept insisting that I would be easier to transfer than the baby. I was not going to give birth in the next few hours, let alone 15 minutes. Get me to the hospital that is ready for 33 weeks. Brigham is ready for 24 weeks, they could handle Oliver in their sleep. Which might be a literal situation.
The attending agreed, gave me a shot of steroids to speed Oliver’s lung development and loaded me in the ambulance. I can’t remember if my mother was in there with me. One of the EMTs had just had a baby the week before though and he was really kind.
I arrived at Brigham and realized I had still not spoken with Steve. A friend and neighbor was also pregnant, and I had my mother call her and ask her to go to the door of our house.
As they tell it when she arrived Steve thought it was she that was in labor and somehow asking him to take her to the hospital. He is a deep sleeper, and a slow waker. He let out the dogs, and then they escaped and he almost left them behind on his drive to Boston.
In the meantime I was in the perinatal ward at B&W. I had never heard of the ward, pre natal yes, post natal sure, peri natal? What was that? It was an entire huge floor of women in active labor who the doctors where trying to stop from giving birth.
After a quick calculation they decided that my risk of infection was lower than the risk to Oliver of being born at 33 weeks. So they wanted to keep him in.
I was in a gorgeous room, corner windows, so private that only one hospital staff popped in. I was hooked up to a monitor as was Oliver and my belly too to monitor contractions.
I learned later that there was a serious trauma on the floor that demanded all hands on deck. At the time I just kept insisting that I needed to be in the birthing center and eventually I sort of disappeared into myself and stopped insisting anything. At some point they rolled me down several floors to the ultra sound and I was in transition there. Finally someone noticed and got me into the birth center. Steve had arrived and was there for the second push. The one that brought Oliver into this world.
He got to cut the cord and Oliver was laid on my stomach just like you see in movies. But his apgar score went down rather than up so the team descended. They reminded me of the scientists in ET and I couldn’t see past them to the baby. I couldn’t hear him either.
At my feet the birthing folks were talking to me and I must have done what they said because they were very complimentary. But that also might just be there way.
Oliver had left the room and I wanted to follow him. I hadn’t had an epidural, not one that worked anyways, so they allowed me on my feet after 30 minutes and we were in the NICU.
If you have not been in a world class NICU consider yourself lucky. The very best care means the very sickest babies. There is a cloak of privacy there despite the incubators being inches apart from one another. The baby next to Oliver was pinned down in the position of Christ on the Cross. He was purple because he didn’t yet have skin. He was covered with saran wrap and on an incubator that moved. Beside him Oliver looked the picture of health. He was not breathing on his own and there were tubes and monitors on his toes and arms and nose. The next day he would have a sunlamp and sunglasses to add to the look. It was April Fool’s day. Steve’s birthday. His party and presents were at home and we were at the hospital. With what would be the best present of all.
Oliver was never in real danger. We know that now. The doctors can’t tell you that though. So I pumped enough for triplets and sat by the incubator and waited for news. It was a frightening disconnected time. The world went on and we were in this other world of the NICU. Riding the elevator to his floor we shared the space with a young family. I elbowed Steve to get him to check out their baby. After they left I began my speculation. Why was that baby so bloated? Did she have hydrocephalus? Some sort of other condition I had never heard of? It turns out she did. She had normal newborn condition. When you weigh more than 4 pounds and are plump and healthy. Moments like this made me remember again how different our world of beeps and the endless daytime of florescence was in the NICU.
After a week we ambulance transferred him to Fletcher Allen and rocked him in the transition nursery and days later he was home.
The rest is his story.
Happy Birthday Oliver. I am so glad you were born.